Was there a pre-Columbian Templar/Masonic presence in Nova Scotia? Probably.
Was something extremely valuable hidden in Nova Scotia? Almost certainly.
As a physician and as Chairman of the Explorers Club for Quebec and Atlantic Canada, I am open-minded but skeptical. I’ve always had a passion for history and have a good collection of ancient coins and an excellent reference library. A local dealer often asks me to identify coins that are too old to be within his expertise.
Recently, a metal detector hobbiest brought in two ancient looking bronze coins he had found by a fresh water lake near the ocean in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Imagine my surprise when these turned out to be 2500 year old Carthaginian bronze currency.
Of course, this doesn’t prove the Carthaginians were in Nova Scotia. After all, a drunken pirate who picked them up in North Africa, could have passed out here and lost them two hundred years ago. Whatever era, this lake would have been a convenient spot for mariners to load up on supplies of fresh water.
A recent issue of The Explorers Journal, the official magazine of the renowned Explorers Club, featured an article on 16th century European maps which showed remarkably accurate depictions of the northern coast of Greenland. This is interesting because at the time this area was covered by ice, not only in the 16th century but even in the 10th and 11th centuries when the Vikings were journeying westward. The author maintains, however, that these areas were free of ice in ancient times when the Phoenicians (and Carthaginians who were Phoenician colonists), the ancient Greeks and the Romans ruled.
These 16th century maps referenced now-lost ancient manuscripts as their source. Since we know the Phoenicians and others traveled to Great Britain to trade for tin, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to think that they may have gone further, especially during a warmer climatic period.
Visitors from Overseas
I mention the above only to establish how I went from scoffing at many pre-Columbian claims of visits to North America, to believing it strongly probable that we had previous overseas visitors. We just need to find evidence, and I believe there are some highly suggestive clues
At one time much of the Viking Eirik‘s and Graenlendinga Sagas was thought to be legend… until Norwegian archeologists, Helge Ingstad and his wife Anne Stine Ingstad, found proof of a Viking settlement in l’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland in 1960. As mentioned, I think it probable that others have visited North America, and that one of these was Prince Henry Sinclair, Grandmaster of Scottish Freemasonry.
The Italian geographer, Antonio Zeno, has documented how Sinclair made this voyage prior to 1400 with a flotilla of 12 ships. That this expedition ever occurred has been scoffed at by many historians, but let’s ask ourselves why Sinclair would care to fictionalize this trip. Sinclair was of Viking descent, and many of the small islands around Scotland were Norwegian territory at the time. Sinclair apparently held Norwegian titles (including Jarl of the Orkneys) and would have been well aware of the Viking expeditions to Vinland.
The Norwegians had an active colony in North America on the west coast of Greenland at least until the 1400’s, a mere stones throw from Baffin Island, and older existing maps (see cartographer Sigurdur Stefansson) show good representations of Baffin Island (Helluland), Labrador (Markland) and the Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland (Vinland). The Northern Peninsula was where the l’Anse aux Meadows settlement was discovered. Sinclair would have to been aware of this. Why would he bother to fictionalize a trip that was old hat by the end of the Fourteenth Century? His Norwegian confreres would hardly have been impressed.
Furthermore, the Rosslyn Chapel, built in the early 1400’s by his descendant, William Sinclair, incorporates plant motifs including Indian maize and aloe vera. These were supposedly unknown in Europe prior to Columbus. Skeptics say the motifs are merely variations of European plants. If so the artists must have been dining on ergot contaminated bread (a medieval precursor of LSD).
The next question is why would Prince Henry Sinclair bother traveling to Nova Scotia? The only logical answer, as I will outline, would have involved something extremely valuable, specifically the treasure of the Order of the Poor Soldiers of Christ and the Temple of Solomon, otherwise known as the Knights Templar. Many people are aware of the Oak Island site on Nova Scotia’s southern shore, overgrown with imported European oaks, and suspected by locals since the late 1700’s to be a treasure repository.
This site comprises structures going hundreds of feet down to a chamber at the level of bedrock. It is so elaborately engineered that even modern treasure seekers have been unable to circumvent the system of flood tunnels and booby traps left for would-be interlopers. Some critics claim the flood tunnels are naturally occurring structures, but the layers upon layers of oak planking and packed cocoanut husks tell another story entirely. This is unlikely to be the work of a motley crew of pirates as some claim, but rather the work of trained engineers.
Coincidentally, the Freemasons of the 13th century would have numbered just such engineers, in fact the very best that medieval Europe had to offer. Freemasonry saw its origins with the humble stone cutters of the Catholic Church’s Middle Ages building mania. As the Gothic style of churches, cathedrals, and monasteries developed and became more elaborate the Freemasons slowly mastered intricate engineering skills. They organized themselves into a continent-wide network of lodges to which members could gain entry by elaborate passwords, grips and signs. This was for the very practical reason that the Freemasons often had to travel the brigand ridden highways of medieval Europe. No one, however, would bother robbing a mason because they never carried any money. All a visiting Mason’s needs were taken care of at the local lodge. The traveler in turn financed his home lodge so that brothers would stay, eat and equip themselves without expense.
In his book, Architecture, David Jacobs explains how by the early 13th century, the Freemasons had earned a level of prestige equal to that of university Ph.D. and had begun to sport scarlet cloaks, long hair and beards. In 1230 the Catholic Church ordered the flamboyant members of the brotherhood to cut their hair and dress modestly as would befit those building their churches. The Freemasons refused and threatened to strike. The Church threatened imprisonment, heresy trials and torture. The Masons replied by threatening to destroy every church, cathedral and monastery they’d built. Incredibly the mighty medieval Church backed down. Many believed the Masons could flatten a huge cathedral by simply removing a keystone or two. The Freemasons got to keep their long hair and beards.
We now know where Sinclair got his engineers. But what was his connection with the Templar treasures? To answer this, let’s delve back a bit in the history of the Knights Templar. Although ostensibly organized to protect pilgrims to the Holy Land during the time of the Crusades, the original Templars consisted of nine French knights under the leadership Hugues de Payen (whose wife was Catherine de St. Clair, or as the family later became known, Sinclair).
These nine knights occupied the site of the ruined Temple of Solomon and began, not to guard pilgrims, but to excavate the temple. Their extensive tunnels have themselves been explored, with Templar artifacts found, proving the Order had been present. No one knows what Payen found, but not long after their excavations the Templars exploded into one of the most powerful and wealthy organizations of the Middle Ages.
By 1300, the Order was the major banker of Europe, issuing drafts which could be redeemed at any of the extensive and multi-national preceptories. They had also attracted the enmity of Philip IV (ironically known as “Philip the Fair”) despite having provided large loans and protection to the monarch. To avoid paying his debts, Philip manufactured charges or heresy and bullied Pope Clement V into ordering the Templars excommunicated as heretics. Philip tried to arrange for secret orders to be sent to have all the Templar knights arrested and their property seized on Friday, October 13th, 1307. Many of the Order were arrested but the Templars must have been forewarned as their wealth, their documents and their fleet disappeared and were (officially) heard from no more. The Order’s elderly grand master, Jacques de Molay, was tortured, and then burned alive.
This particular Friday the 13th also proved very unlucky for Philip and Pope Clement. They were both dead within a year. Many countries proved remarkably slow in pursuing the Templars and it would appear Scotland may even have welcomed many to its shores. This was hardly surprising since Robert the Bruce, the king of Scotland, had been contemporaneously excommunicated for killing his rival, Comyn, on the Franciscan church altar at Dumfries. He would have been in dire need of funds and troops as the English had long coveted Scotland’s territory. William Wallace was a predecessor of Robert the Bruce and if you saw the movie Braveheart you have some idea of how fond the Scots were of the English. The Templars had initially fought Wallace, but adversity makes for strange bedfellows.
The greatest victory of the Scots against the English, and the one which established Scotland’s independence for centuries, was the Battle of Bannockburn. On November 6, 1314, the English appeared poised to win against an apparently weaker Scottish army, when an armored force appeared over the horizon. From records of the money and equipment left behind, and relatively low casualties it would seem the English fled in terror. An armored force of knights wearing the Templar emblem would have had just such an effect, as if an army of ghosts had suddenly risen from the dead.
Having cemented the claim of Robert the Bruce to the Scottish throne, however, the Templars now presented a bit of a problem for Bruce. He remained a fair target for the rest of Catholic Europe as long as the excommunication held, as did the Knights Templar themselves. A logical move would have been to rename the latter organization or perhaps merge it with an existing one. By this time the medieval cathedral building spree had begun to wane and the Masonic lodges would likely have realized the need for new “blood”. The Templars with their wealth and power would have been an attractive acquisition as well as another way of the Freemasons thumbing their noses at the Catholic Church. Everyone, the Catholic Church included, would have been happy to see the Templars “disappear”.
Hence it would hardly seem strange to find Prince Henry Sinclair grandmaster of the Freemasons three-quarters of a century later. The question is what would he have been doing in Nova Scotia? Besides material treasure, some believe the Templars may have found documents which could potentially have shaken the foundations of the Catholic Church, documents which questioned some of their fundamental and long taught tenets. Perhaps what they possessed was simply too explosive to harbor in Scotland. Nova Scotia (or New Scotland) would have been a great alternative.
There are other remnants in North America thought to have connections including the circular Newport Tower (circular buildings being the typical style of a Templar preceptory), the presence of which was possibly documented as a “Norman villa” by Verrazano in 1524, and a stone inscribed with what is considered to be the figure of Templar knight. The stone is dubbed the “Westford Knight” due to its discovery in that town in Massachusetts.
Many readers may have been familiar with much of what I’ve outlined. Most are not familiar with the so called “Mystery Walls”, found near Nova Scotia’s capital, Halifax. This is a protected site, but it has not been extensively explored. It is located on high ground and is naturally fortified by ridges, supplemented with walls built in a style similar to medieval walls I’ve seen in the U.K.
The area is well back from the harbor of Halifax, and cleared of trees, would have an incredible and unique panoramic view of the harbor and its entrance, ideal for a defensive position. There is a pentagonal structural foundation within the walls which has a general eastward orientation. The building also has a smaller chamber located on the north side of the structure (which some have dubbed the Grail chamber).
The number five and the “five points” of a pentagon have specific meanings both the Freemasons as does the orientation of a building to the east, like the temple of King Solomon. In the Bible, 1 Kings tells us that the gateway to the Holy of Holies was pentagonal in shape. Furthermore, a perusal of the map of Templar structures in the Rennes-le-Chateau area reveals that the structures are orientated in a perfect pentagram.
Was this the first Masonic lodge in North America? At present, the first documented Masonic lodge meeting in North America occurred at the Sinclair Inn, in Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia, in 1738. Further food for thought is the fact that Nova Scotia was first known as Acadia (a corruption of Arcadie or Arcadia) in the early 1600’s. Those who believe the blood line of Christ passed through the Merovingian Kings will recall that Arcadia, Greece was the first place to which Christ’s descendants were alleged to have emigrated after leaving Judea before moving on to France.
This leaves me with one final question: What exactly was Sinclair hiding (or retrieving) in Nova Scotia? I can’t help but wonder if something of earth-shaking importance remains to be discovered on this province’s shores.
- Architecture by David Jacobs, Newsweek Books, New York 1974
- The Hiram Key by Christopher Knight and Robert Lomas, Arrow Books, The Random House Group Ltd., 20 Vauxhall Bridge Rd., London SW1V 2SA, England, 1997
- The Vinland Sagas: The Norse Discovery of America, translated by Magnus Magnusson and Hermann Palsson, Penguin Books, 27 Wright’s Lane, London W8 5TZ, England, 1965
- The Temple and the Lodge, by Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh, Bantam Press, 1990
Photos © George Burden
“Building with pentagonal foundation found enclosed by the Mystery Walls”
“The so-called “Grail chamber” found within the confines of the pentagonal building”
“Stair case found near another building foundation within Mystery Walls”
L’Anse aux Meadows, recreated long house, Wikipedia Commons
Stefánsson map, c.1590, The map shows Greenland as part of the polar mainland and Helluland, Markland and Skrælingeland south and west of Greenland. Manuscript Department, Royal Library, Copenhagen